Analysis. The inertia of the world’s governments is largely due to the fact that the conflict hasn’t actually had any particular negative effect on the world economy. Now the Houthis are trying to upset this equilibrium.

The Houtis’ dangerous game could provoke a broader offensive

The Biden administration has once again been unable to obtain a cease-fire from the Israelis. All Secretary of State Antony Blinken could get was permission for a UN delegation to enter Gaza.

There is a strange asymmetry in the parallel justifications used by the U.S. and by the Islamic Republic of Iran: both admit to providing economic and military support to their allies – namely Israel for the U.S. and militias for Iran – but stress that they have no control over their decisions.

The greatest absurdity in this situation is the fact that the Iranians are not doing anything to stop the actions of their allies, while the Americans are putting pressure on Israel to stop the massacre in Gaza, but with no apparent success. It seems that anything can be allowed to continue as long as it’s the Palestinians who suffer the consequences of what is looking more and more like genocide rather than self-defense with each passing day. All the more so if the conflict doesn’t put a damper on economic performance: the inertia of the world’s governments is largely due to the fact that the conflict hasn’t actually had any particular negative effect on the world economy.

Now the Houthis are trying to upset this equilibrium, and seem to be succeeding in doing so, even though their operation represents a dangerous game that could trigger an offensive reaction from the U.S. and its allies. So far, it seems to have been a particularly effective tactic, far more so than the attacks conducted by Hezbollah along the Israeli border or by militia drones in Syria against American bases. The Houthis’ actions are bringing danger to the Red Sea, one of the most important thoroughfares of the world’s maritime system. 40 percent of trade between Asia and Europe passes through here. 12 percent of seaborne oil and 8 percent of liquefied natural gas goes through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. Any prolonged disruption could cause enormous costs to the entire global economy.

The ships coming from Europe who wish to avoid the Red Sea and choose the alternative route must go all the way around the Horn of Africa, facing additional fuel costs amounting to an extra $1 million per round trip. Since November, more than 150 commercial ships have chosen this route. On the other hand, insurance premiums for ships transiting the Red Sea have increased almost tenfold since the attacks began. The International Chamber of Shipping says that 20 percent of the world’s container ships are now avoiding the Red Sea. France’s CMA CGM, the world’s second-largest freight carrier by market share, announced that it will double its rates for shipments from Asia to Europe.

Last Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council brought up a resolution calling for an immediate end to the Houthis’ attacks, which was passed very quickly, not unusual when Western interests are at stake. The text recognizes the right of U.N. member states to defend their ships and demands “that the Houthis immediately cease all such attacks, which impede global commerce and undermine navigational rights and freedoms as well as regional peace and security.”

A spokesperson for the Houthi movement claimed the Security Council resolution was a “political game” and called “on the Security Council to immediately release 2.3 million people from the Israeli-American siege in Gaza.”

It is clear that the U.S.-led naval task force to protect commercial vessels in the Red Sea and the nearby Gulf of Aden has not had the effect of deterring Houthi attacks. The latter are using relatively inexpensive weapons, such as drones, to inflict significant damage, taking into account that military ships cannot escort every commercial vessel.

The United States is planning to go on the offensive against Houthi positions in Yemen. Such attacks could increase the risk of regional conflict, including with Iran, which has deployed its own warship. And the Yemeni Houthi movement seems to be openly welcoming the prospect of conflict with the United States.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!